After Irving House, the house at 828 Royal Avenue is reputed to be one of the oldest houses remaining on the south side of Royal Avenue. Local historian, heritage expert, and author Jim Wolf dates the house to the mid-1880s. Wolf recognized the roofline of the house in a circa 1884-86 photograph of New Westminster during the course of research he did on the property for Donald Luxton and Associates. Wolf’s research attributes the house to retired Royal Engineer Sapper Charles Digby whose name is on the December 12, 1892 City water hook up. Donald Luxton and Associates produced a Statement Of Significance for the City of New Westminster in 2003-2004 the house based on Wolf’s research.
EARLIEST CLEAR DIRECTORY REFERENCE
NWPL Photo #58 shows post-fire Cunningham Hardware Co. circa 1903
George Cunningham and his family lived at 828 Royal Avenue, originally numbered 840 Royal Avenue, for only two years.
George Cunningham Jr. was born on Amherst Island, Ontario on March 22, 1866. He came to New Westminster in 1889 where he worked for most of his life as a hardware merchant. According to the 1890 Williams Vancouver and New Westminster Directory, H. M. Cunningham and Co., located at Columbia on the corner of Begbie, offered a “complete line of shelf hardware, stoves, ranges, tinware, plumbing and house furnishing” and contracting was “a specialty”.
The 1890 Williams Directory lists George’s father also on Royal Avenue. George Cunningham Sr. was born in Ireland on April 15, 1840 and worked as a blacksmith most of his life. His wife, Eliza “Isa” Glenn was born in Ontario on July 17, 1844. Her father’s name was Samuel Glenn. In later life George and Isa lived at 901 St. Andrews. Eliza Cunningham died on May 9, 1919 at the age of 74 and George Cunningham died in New Westminster on November 6, 1919. Both were buried in New Westminster.
By the time of the 1901 census rolled around, George and Carrie Cunningham were living in Vancouver. By the time of the 1911 census it seems that George and Carrie had had a parting of the ways as she moved back to New Westminster and operated a boardinghouse at 703 Agnes Street. George remarried. His second wife’s maiden name was Rena Hefferman. In later life, the George Cunningham lived at 859 Thurlow. He worked as a hardware merchant until his retirement in 1940, died at VGH on November 16, 1945 at the age of 79, and was buried in the New Fraser Cemetery. He was predeceased by his first wife Carrie who died in Essondale on February 25, 1938 at the age of 71.
FIRST WATER CONNECTION
& SAPPER CHARLES DIGBY
Prior to 1892, the house at 828 Royal Avenue was not hooked up to the city water and sewage system but most likely got water from a well and had an outhouse. On December 12, 1892, Charles Digby, a retired Royal Engineers Sapper turned farmer, then bricklayer and ultimately Steward for the Royal Columbian Hospital applied for water hook up to the house at 828 Royal Avenue. The house was 780Sq Ft.
For all the years Digby is listed in the New Westminster Directories, there does not seem to be any year in which he is shown actually living at 828 Royal Avenue. From 1882 to 1885 he is listed on Agnes Street. After 1885 follow a number of years during which no directories were published. The 1887 Directory gives Digby’s name and occupation but does not list his address. Then in 1889 he is once again listed as living on Agnes near the corner of Clement Street. If Digby and his family lived at 828 Royal Avenue at all, it would have to have been between 1886 and 1888. However, it may well be that he never left Agnes Street during this period.
Charles Digby had a colourful life. Born in Braintree, Essex, England in 1840, Digby worked as a bricklayer. A survivor of the horrors of the Crimean War, and a shipwreck, Digby came to Canada with his brother James as a Sapper with the Royal Engineers. He worked on several projects in BC, including the building of the Cariboo Road. After leaving the Royal Engineers, Digby tried his hand at farming on his land grant in Pitt Meadows for some years before moving to New Westminster with his wife Sarah. In New Westminster Digby took up work as a steward at Royal Columbian Hospital and after living on Agnes Street, and then Columbia Street for a number of years, moved to Albert Crecent. The Digby’s we very involved in St. Mary’s Sapperton Anglican Church.
Courtesy, St. Mary’s Sapperton webpage.
When Digby died August 29, 1907, at the age of 72, the Columbian Newspaper made much of the turnout for his funeral which included a large contingent of Sappers. The actual news clipping is about twice the size of what has been included here. The rest of the article deals in great detail with the number and variety of the floral tributes that covered his coffin. Charles Digby is buried in Digby’s family was very active in New Westminster’s Fraser Cemetery. A more detailed account of Digby’s life and accomplishments is available online at:
SECOND KNOWN RESIDENTS – THE MCKERCHER FAMILY
The McKercher family lived at 828 Royal Avenue from 1892 to 1897. Prior to moving to 828 Royal Avenue the McKercher family lived on St. Andrews Street. Alexander McKercher was born in Maxville, Glengarry County, Ontario on July 12, 1859, the son of Peter McKercher and Isabella Fisher. His wife, Alice Maud Reeves was born in Norfolk County, Ontario on August 30, 1866, the daughter of Aaron Reeves and Fanny Price. Alexander was Presbyterian and Maud was Anglican. On January 21, 1889, 32 year-old teamster Alexander McKercher married 22 year-old Alice Maud Reeves in New Westminster. The Rev. Thomas Scouler presided.
For the years that Alex McKercher lived at 828 Royal Avenue, he is listed as a teamster, first for the Royal City Planing Mills, and later for the City of New Westminster. From 1992 to 1994, the directories list a number of male lodgers, all employees of the Royal City Planing Mills, living with the McKerchers. Alex Ferguson, who lived next door at 832 Royal Avenue and the lodgers at his house also worked for the Royal City Planing Mills.
The Great Fire of September 10, 1898 burned most houses south of Royal Avenue to the ground but spared 844 (now 832) and only partially damaged 840 (now 828 Royal).
Obituary for Alex McKercher
AFTER THE GREAT FIRE
The directory record for the occupation of 828 and 832 Royal Avenue after the Great Fire of 1898 is very difficult to trace. The fact that the directories for New Westminster, if they were published at all in some years, had only alphabetical and no street sections, makes researching New Westminster houses during the first couple of decades of the 20th Century very difficult. The job is made even more impossible by the fact that for the period immediately following the Great Fire the numbering system for the streets was completely rearranged. Instead of numbers growing from east to west, they grow from west to east. Unless a family lived for a long time in the same house until the numbering system reversed again in the 1910s it is almost impossible to find out who lived in what house.
Sadly, therefore, the record of occupation for 828 Royal Avenue is blank from the time of the Great Fire until 1911, the year of the Canada Census.
828 ROYAL AVENUE & THE ROYAL CITY LAUNDRY
Charles Digby died August 29, 1907. Although a proper title search is necessary to confirm this, research of most of the 800-block of Royal Avenue and Moody Avenue just below it, as well as a second water hook up request for May 6, 1911 seems to point to the possibility that sometime after Charles Digby’s death, 828 Royal Avenue, and perhaps a number of other lots on the block, were bought by the Abrams family who ran the Royal City Steam Laundry. The Royal City Laundry, originally established on Agnes Street opened at 814 Royal Avenue in late 1907 or early 1908. It was built on the site of the James Flux House which, unlike its neighbour 828 Royal Avenue, burned down in the Great Fire.
Water hook up for the new steam laundry took place in November of 1907. The Laundry appears at 814 Royal Avenue in the 1908 directory. Jonathan “Byard” Abrams is listed as the proprietor. Four years later, A. C. (possibly O. C. for Orlando C.) Abrams, applied for a second water hook up for 828 Royal Avenue. A quick check of the 1911 census and the 1911 New Westminster Directory finds these people living at the house:
Some of the people listed above probably lived in the downstairs rooms. The Abrams family is listed at 828 Royal Avenue in 1912, but in 1913 a tailor Alex McCaulay of Baker & McCaulay Tailors at 48 8th Street is listed there for a year. Then in 1914, a man named Archibald Bowins (no job listed) lives there for a year. From 1915 to 1918 there is a break in the directory record, but then in 1919, Byard Abrams’ brother Milford S. Abrams, foreman and later manager of the Royal City Laundry is listed there until 1925.
It seems that it was during the time the Abrams family owned 828 Royal Avenue that Lot 8 of CB 28 was subdivided with two small houses, 829 and 831 Moody Street being built on what would have been the back of 828 Royal Avenues lot. From time to time the directories show Abrams family members or staff from the Royal City laundry living in these houses.
The Abrams family hailed from Kingston. Milford Stanley Abrams was born in Kingston, Ontario on November 25, 1882 the son of Jonathan Abrams and Mary Matilda Fairbanks. His wife’s name was Gertrude Hadden. His death registration indicates that Milford worked as a laundryman from 1906 to 1946. In later life Milford Abrams lived at 406 9th Street. He died there on July 25, 1958 at the age of 76 and was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Burnaby. The Royal City Laundry continued as a business until 1960 when the business was sold and renamed Nelsons Launderers & Dry Cleaners.
From 1925 to 1942 when their family and all Canadians of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from the Pacific Coast after Pearl Harbour, 828 Royal was home to an Issei (First Generation Japanese-Canadian) family, the Nishis. Sennosuke Nishi was born in Kagoshima-Ken, Japan on February 12, 1882, the son of fisherman Isejiro Nishi and Sode Ishikaki. He came to Canada in 1907 and worked all his life as a fisherman. He named his fishing boat ”Shizu” (seen above) after his wife, wife, Shizu Nishiguchi. Shizu was born in Tsuzura-machi in what is now part of Hikone City, Shiga-Ken, Japan on August 20, 1893, the daughter of barber Mikizo Nishiguchi and Matsu Nakamura. She came to Canada in 1913. Her father, Mikizo Nishiguchi would go on to become a prominent New Westminster-based businessman.
According to their wedding certificate, Sennosuke was Buddhist and Shizu was Methodist. On January 17, 1917 35 year-old Sennosuke Nishi, the residing on the Naas River, married 24 year-old Shizu in New Westminster’s Japanese Methodist Church. The Rev. Y. Akagawa presided. Witnesses were Mrs. Y. Akagawa and S. Nozoki.
Shizu’s father ran a successful department store, one of the largest Japanese stores in Vancouver and New Westminster, called Nishiguchi Shoten西口商店, (M. Nishiguchi & Company). Shizu Nishiguchi worked as a barber. In some years the directory lists her as running a barber shop at 841 Columbia. This building no longer stands.
Courtesy of the NW Museum & Archives & Mrs. Lorrane Elliott
Lorraine Elliott, the Nishi’s niece, remembers that when her aunt and uncle lived at 828 Royal Avenue the bookkeeper from her father’s company, M. Nishiguchi & Co. lived in the downstairs suite. As far as she can recollect, the house was painted white, although other relatives remember it as cream colour.
The Nishi’s were avid gardeners and grew magnificent Kiku 菊 (chrysanthemums). During the summer, the boat-shaped metal planter on the front porch was filled with nasturtiums. Lorraine remembers standing on the wicker chairs that were on the front porch and playing in the dirt and getting scolded for disturbing the roots. The Nishi family also kept chickens in a coop in the back yard.
Lorraine Mitsue Elliott, the Nishi’s niece, remembers Sennosuke Nishi saying, “They can take away our material things, but they cannot take away our dignity.” Her aunt Shizu died at Bridge River Hospital of angina pectoris and bronchial asthma on November 16, 1943. She was only 50 years old. The family had to get special permission from the RCMP to accompany Shizu’s body by train back to New Westminster for cremation. On Shizu’s death certificate, her time in Bridge River was noted to the exact day by her brother, Magojiro Nishiguchi: one year, five months and 19 days…
1942-1949: ANOTHER MYSTERY
1950 -1952: THE ROBERGE FAMILY
蔣家1953 TO PRESENT: THE CHONG FAMILY
At some point in the 1950s or 60s, Kan Chong contracted F. H. Shaw & Son to put in a new concrete foundation for the house. Despite this, the house has had foundation problems as a neighbouring business dug a large pit beside the property and did not install a proper retaining wall. The back of the house has had to be shored up from time to time ever since.
After Mr. Chong died, the family business at 37 8th Street was changed to Steph’s Neighbourhood Candy Store. There is a picture of it taken in 1984. The property was expropriated in 1985 for the new New Westminster to Vancouver Skytrain Route. The Chong family was paid $115,000 for the property.
37 8th Street NWPL Photo 2245 Steph's Neighbourhood Candy Store. Photo by Lance E. Thatcher
Lawrence Chong moved with his mother to a new house he built in Burnaby. Leepek (Pekfong) Chong passed away in August of 2005. Her remains were cremated and her ashes interred in Fraser Cemetery.
From 1985 to recent years, 828 Royal Avenue has been rented out to a number of tenants. During that period, Royal Avenue was enlarged to a four lane road from two, raising the street level by a couple of feet and cutting off access to street parking.
SOME MORE CHONG FAMILY PHOTOS
1913 Goads Atlas of New Westminster
The researcher would like to thank the following people for their kind assistance and advice in this project: Mr. and Mrs. Krishan Anand, Lorraine Elliot (née Nishiguchi), Lawrence Chong, Graham Elvidge, Stephen Scheving, Donald Luxton, Jim Wolf, the management and staff at the New Westminster Museum & Archives, and the staff at the New Westminster Public Library.
Other Resources Used:
St. Mary The Virgin, Sapperton Website
Royal Engineers Website
Bridge River Townsite Web Page
Photograph by Andy Cleven